Tobold's Blog
Saturday, July 31, 2021
Wary of subscriptions

I am so old, I actually remember a time before the internet. And it might surprise you to hear that the people who are now trying to scam you and sell you something of little value for lots of your money already existed before the internet. Only they operated via print ads or even door-to-door salesmen. So one of the things I learned early in life was that one of the preferred business models of scammers is the subscription. Presumably a lot of people have problems with calculating how much a $10 per month subscription ends up costing them per year. More realistically, the amount of money you are willing to pay for something depends on your enthusiasm for that something, and that enthusiasm is likely to be highest when that something is new to you. So those $10 a month sound like a good deal in the first month, but maybe half a year later you barely look at whatever service is provided or product you’re receiving regularly, and the $10 are far more than you would pay now.

Somebody recommended Ted Lasso to me, at which point I realized I have a subscription to Apple TV+ which shows it. In my defense, I’m still on the first free year that came with buying an Apple TV box. But this is one of the weirder subscriptions in that you lose access *immediatedly* when you cancel, and not only at the end of the free period. So I will have to watch out and cancel this just before I have to actually pay for it in October. Apple TV, in my opinion, is totally not worth paying for, because it has very little content, and even less of it that actually interests me. Ted Lasso would only be the third show I watched in a year on Apple TV+, after Mythic Quest and The Morning Show. For me, personally, the best TV show subscription deal is Amazon Prime Video, because it comes for free as part of a package, and I pay less in subscription per year than the shipping fees I save (especially in pandemic years). The only other subscription for TV content I have is Netflix, and that used to be better than it is now, because when I started Netflix still had content from various TV chains on it. These days, each of these content providers has their own streaming service, and if I wanted to have access to everything, I would need to a) move to the US (many of them aren’t available in Europe) and b) pay $100 or so every month to get the same scope that Netflix used to have when it started streaming.

Video game subscription services are still relatively new, but I can see the same thing happening there. Right now, the Microsoft Xbox Game Pass for PC has games from different publishers, including big names like EA. It would be a lot less good deal if each of those publishers pulled their games from the Game Pass and asked me for another $10 per month to access them. But even if each subscription service would have the same number of games that the Game Pass would have now, it would be bad for me as consumer: I would either have to pay for all of them, or not have access to all the games that are “exclusive” for the services I subscribe to. Ideally in such a situation I’d need to set up a rotation, playing all the games on one subscription service for three months, then cancel and switch to the next one. That would be complicated.

Ultimately, the limiting factor is my available leisure time. Ten times as much content for ten times the money is not a good deal, because I don’t have ten times the time to consume the content. And there video streaming is competing with games subscriptions for my time. But obviously a multitude of subscriptions is also a risk to personal finances, as one easily loses track of them. I am especially critical of non-game software, which I might only need once in a while. I don’t want to pay a monthly subscription fee to Microsoft for using Word or Excel, I don’t use them all that often privately. And these days even all sorts of gadgets come with a subscription, up to and including doorbells  Instead of having door-to-door salesmen persuading you to buy a magazine subscription you don’t really need, now the doorbell itself takes your subscription money. I think they call it progress.

There's another way to look at this. Let's say there's a TV show you want to watch but either you missed it when it was showing on network tv or you didn't have time for it then. So you buy the box set. And watch it, once. Then, if you're efficient, you sell the box set while it still retains most of it's value, so watching the show has cost you very little.

But most likely you aren't efficent. The box set just sits on the shelf along with all the others until one day you need the space. Then you take all the old box sets and fgive them to charity or maybe try to sell them on EBay for a fraction of what you paid for them, which is all they're worth now no-one cares about those shows any more.

Or, you could just sub to whichever service carries the show at the point you're ready to watch it, watch the whole thing in a month for less than the box set would have cost, probably a lot less, maybe watch some other shows or movies too, then unsubscribe until you find something else you want to watch.

Of course, to do that you need to be organised, too. The penalty is for being disorganized and you're going to pay it whatever distribution method you access.
I'll be 58 soon, and I still remember the days of the door-to-door salesmen, but I'll be damned if I can remember any of them offering something for a monthly subscription. Rather it was along the lines of getting you to sign some contract that set you up to make monthly payments on something that was financed - like a set of encyclopedias, vacuum cleaner, replacement windows...etc. Even the magazine salesmen were offering a choice of magazines for a set amount that was financed by monthly payments for a fixed amount of time on a contractual basis.

When I think of a "subscription", I think of something that can be opted out of at anytime depending on the current need. Like a WoW subscription, Netflix subscription, landline telephone or even a satellite TV service. I don't own a television, haven't for quite a few years now. All of my TV/Movie entertainment is derived from my internet connection, which I pay a monthly subscription for - for use of my PC and cell phone for when I am at home. The only other "subscription" service that I have ever paid for(internet wise) was for my WoW subscription when I was actively playing the game. Most movies and television shows can be found for free with a simple google search with the exception of new movies or TV series that have exclusivity on another platform. But I can wait for those to appear, or I simply pay for a ticket and go watch the movie at the theater. Paying for multiple services to access a limited amount of content, that is gated by my available free time, has never made sense to me from a budgeting and financial perspective. Especially now as I close in on retirement.

I'm still buying games on Steam, but there are no "extra" subscription costs for the mostly single-player games that I'm enjoying now that I have weaned myself off of WoW. But hey, to each their own. If someone wants to juggle the free periods of subscription services, and cancelling before the bill comes due, more power to them.
I bought an iRing doorbell, no where on the box did it say you needed to pay monthly for it. It wasn't much at $3 a month but when you spend $200 for a doorbell you expect it to be functional. Without the cloud all you can see if the live feed, so by the time you pull up your phone whatever triggered the motion sensor is long gone. I returned that for a full refund.

Speaking of subscriptions, have you seen the new products that default as a subscription? I believe the first one to make news was Kate Hudson's fitness clothing line. People would buy a piece of clothing and started complaining that a month later they received another piece of clothing they didn't order. Turns out they had signed up for a monthly subscription. I had the same experience with coffee. I paid for a 6 month coffee-of-the-month package as a gift to a friend who loves coffee. Luckily before the 6 months was up I inquired if I would get charged for another 6 months and it turns out that is the default, you have to "cancel" or you just get automatically billed for another 6 months.

There's a new business model, or maybe it's not new, that relies on people being too apathetic to cancel subscriptions or dispute getting charged for stuff they don't want.
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